Fundamental lessons of life

1st December 2000 at 00:00
Following this year's furore over the repeal of Section 2a, forbidding local authorities to promote homosexuality, the Scottish Executive has published draft guidelines on 'Sex Education in Scottish Schools'. We asked schools, parents and a local authority what they think of them


Margaret Duff, headteacher, St Francis RC Primary, Edinburgh

"The draft document on sex education dovetails very comfortably with the 5-14 religious education in Roman Catholic schools and with our own school policy on personal and social development.

The fundamentals of self-esteem, respect for others, good personal relationships and respect for individual differences are the cornerstones of enabling the young people in our care to make informed and healthy choices.

Sex education throughout the school does not stand alone but is part of well developed programmes of work through health education, personal and social development and religious education.

I particularly like the guide for parents and carers, which emphasises the need for good communication between school and home. Parents are being encouraged to establish a dialogue between home and school to ensure that all "educators" of our pupils have an understanding of how sex education is being developed across many areas of the curriculum.

This document should ensure there is a well developed and balanced programme of work for sex education. We can then be assured that our young people, today and in the future, will have the knowledge and understanding to make responsible, informed and healthy criteria."

John Donnell, headteacher, Gretna Primary, Dumfries and Galloway

"The sex education guidelines do not say much that is new. The advice points repeatedly to 5-14 national guidelines, present and in the pipeline, which all schools follow and utilise in the production of their policies which relate to the framework encompassing sex education.

The aim may be to ensure that a comprehensive programme is adopted in every school which does not have sex lessons in isolation, but it must surely be a rare school which does this. The programme should ensure that sex education is covered at the top end of primary, as requested by HM inspectors, but as part of an integrated school plan. Again, this seems to be unnecessary repetition.

If there is a positive aspect to the exercise, it would seem to be drawing together advice, principles, organisation and legal framework which aid individual schools to appraise and develop the relevant guidelines and policies which each establishment follows. But in short, the guidelines are repetitive and lacking substance."


Tony Gavin and George Burns, head and assistant head, St Margaret's RC Academy, Livingston, West Lothian

"This seems to be a genuine attempt to pull together a useful set of guidelines for school planning. We welcome the inclusion of the Catholic Education Commission document Relationships and Moral Education; the emphasis on partnership with parents and on the values which underpin the programmes, though we would prefer to have these values made explicit (respect, love, justice and equality); and the section on faith perspectives.

Clearly there exists a tension among various groups and individuals regarding the importance of marriage as the preferred basis for family life. The value of stable relationships as the context for sex education will present difficulties for some teachers and parents but will be important. A value-driven approach to sex education that is genuinely inclusive of all pupils, irrespective of their own sexual orientation, will require much skill and sensitivity from the teacher and understanding from parents and pupils.

For local authorities, a major challenge will be to deliver an effective multi-agency approach to these programmes while maintaining consistency of the values underpinning them. For schools, a number of practical issues emerge, such as support and training of teachers and the legal obligation to consult with pupils - what is expected here and to what purpose? Much emphasis is placed on schools consulting and informing parents: not much new here. But we are concerned about growing parental apathy in teaching moral and social behaviour.

The guidance for schools on consultation with parents contains features of good practice which, while laudable, are not compatible with current staffing and resourcing. Also, the document places much emphasis on parental rights but little on parental responsibilities."

Bill Walker, depute headteacher, Inverness Royal Academy, Highland

"The sex education guidance for schools and local authorities on effective consultation with parents and carers is welcomed, placing the 'teaching' of sex education within a context of relationships, healthy living and personal responsibility. Although schools have a major role in this provision, the document does remind us that pupils are members of families and of the wider community.

The legal framework lays out the context in which schools and authorities have to work in this area; the legal responsibilities of parentscarers and other agencies are also identified. The consultation should ensure that all sides are aware of these and that the onus is not placed too heavily on schools.

The role of the school in effective consultation with parentscarers identifies good practice. This is done to some degree in all establishments, but there has to be increased awareness and sensitivity as to how it is done. This will place added pressure on schools and selected staff in terms of development, planning and reviewing.

On the whole, it is a constructive document, forwarding development in what schools are already doing. Its success depends on sensitivity and trust on all sides."


Sophia Khan Rehman, school board member, Shawlands Academy, Glasgow

"Reading through the leaflets for parents, I still think there is much room for improvement, especially as regards ethnic minorities.

The guidelines could be a bit more culturally sensitive. Sex education is a taboo subject for most parents, so local authorities should set up workshops in schools and local community centres. The community liaison officer also should be more involved with these parents. Interpreters would need to be present, but this would be a start in giving these parents an awareness before the sex education programme is introduced to young people.

Many parents would not like their primary school children being taught about sex education. I think a lot of parents would rather have them wait until they have reached the age of puberty or when they are in their first year of high school.

The good side is, of course, our children and young people gain the knowledge that they rightly need to get on with their lives. It's not only one subject that they will learn, they will also be taught about many other aspects of life, which is important."

Jessica Findlay, parent, Balfron High, Stirling

"While local authorities must have regard to the 'value of a stable family in a child's development', the reality is that many children are now part of a fluid family structure from which stability is often conspicuously absent.

The aim of teaching sex education as 'the process of human reproduction within the context of relationships based on love and respect' is laudable but surely often far removed from the reality of many children, who may have experience of two or more hostile parents, step-parents and extended family. Some would argue that it is the very absence of a stable, loving home background which sometimes leads to the emotional need that some girls feel sexual relations can satisfy.

In a culture which now applauds all aspects of diversity, many children are exposed to confusing adult sexual and behaviour patterns long before they can make proper sense of them. It is essential that sex education in schools emphasises the value of self-respect and involves the pupils in trying to reach their own informed decisions. No parent who is aware of the pressures on young people to demonstrate their sexual maturity before they are emotionally equipped to cope with adult relationships can doubt the value of the more coherent approach to sex education which this guidance provides.

Responsibility in sexual relationships is a much wider issue than simply the provision of appropriate sex education. It can, and should, actively prevent the dissipation of young talent and potential by encouraging positive attitudes to relationships based on mutual respect and encouraging a climate of informed planning to have children when such decisions can more maturely be made and the consequences better handled."


Hugh Dougherty, public relations manager, East Renfrewshire Council

"East Renfrewshire Council has produced a draft policy based on the guidelines. This has been subject to extensive consultation with teachers, health boards, school boards, the Archdiocese of Glasgow and the Diocese of Paisley.

Much of the curricular approach centres on the environmental studies content of the 5-14 curriculum and the council is building on existing materials and approaches using the council's own existing guidelines to produce a wrap-around policy which takes into account the recommendations of the McCabe report on sex education and the Section 2a outcomes."

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